Acknowledgement: Most of the family information on this page has come from the memoir, The Crepe Myrtle, written by Charles B. Packard, half-brother of Robert G. Packard. The book is located here, The Crepe Myrtle.
Robert Gay Packard was born in Regina, New Mexico to Bob and Ruby Inez Foster Gay, a rancher and Santa Fe Railroad worker. Robert's sister, also named Ruby Inez Foster Gay, was born March 4, 1926, in Brownwood, Texas, after Ruby and Bob had separated. Ruby, pregnant at the time, had taken Robert to live with her sister and brother-in-law, Frank and Eula Lee Corbett. A year later, Ruby and the two children moved to Temple, Texas to be near her mother, Rosie Alice Foster, and her sister Audrey Ellen. Ruby found a duplex to live in and a job at a local laundry. It was hard work, but she was "own her own." A neighbor suggested that she start her own laundry and ironing service out of her home. In additon, to providing more income, this would let her be with her children during the day. She worked hard, did quality work and her business thrived. Ruby's strength and determination can be seen in her signature, shown below.
In 1932, two brothers, Ira Bowman Packard and Alex Packard dropped off a sack full of laundry at Ruby's place. Bowman was impressed with how clean and orderly Ruby's place was and how well behaved Robert and Inez were. He also thought that Ruby was quite pretty. When he went to pick up the laundry he asked her to go to "the picture show". She agreed to go with him. Bowman and Ruby dated for over a year and were married in Cameron, Texas on November 7, 1933. Robert was nine and Inez was seven at the time. Shortly after the marriage, Bowman adopted the two children and they were now Packards. Bowman and Ruby had three children of their own, Charles Bowman, Wayne and Ira Bowman Packard Jr. Charles was named for his father, "Bowman," and his grandfather, Charles E. Packard, who was born in England. His grandmother, Margaret Moffitt had been born in Ireland.
The family moved to Temple, Texas, where Ira worked as a telephone lineman. Robert completed high school in December 1942, but elected to take additional courses to make up for the transitional year from the eighth to the tenth grade. He graduated in June of 1943, as President of the Senior Class. He was also valedictorian, despite working at a filling station. Following graduation, Robert enlisted in the US Army on July 14, 1943. He did his basic training at Fort Sam Houston Induction Center in San Antonio, Texas. Robert served in the Philippines in the Army Signal Corps as a radio intercept operator until the war ended, and he was posted to Japan to serve as a Japanese interpreter for the US Army Occupational Forces.
Bob returned from Japan in 1946 and enrolled in the University of Texas at Austin the following year under the G.I. Bill. He was a member of UT Phi Beta Kappa. He received a master's in physics with a thesis entitled, Complex Roots of Polynomials with a Synthesizer. This work was likely supervised by S. Leroy Brown who designed and built the synthesizer, which is a very early example of an analog computer. Brown's machine is shown at right. Only two years later he was awarded his PhD for a dissertation entitled, Streaming Potentials in Capillaries for Sinusoidal Flow. He worked previously at the Defense Research Laboratory at UT while pursuing his PhD.
Robert joined Baylor as associate professor in 1952. Robert married Joyce Hornaday in 1953. She was an administrator at Baylor. Robert was appointed to Mississippi College physics faculty in 1955. At some point, he returned to Baylor where he had a very successful career as can be seen in the various articles included below. From time to time, Robert took temporary teaching assignments at various universities.
MAY 7, 2002, Baylor Media Communications
During the 50 years Physics Professor Robert Packard has taught at Baylor, he has often thought the college students in his classes were getting younger and younger. But even Packard must have said "Good grief" to himself on May 3 when he looked out on the crowd gathered for his Physics 1405 lecture and saw 3-year-old Annika Larson and her baby brother, Niklas, beaming back at him from the front row.
So why were the tots attending a college physics class?
Their mother, Missy Larson, took "Packard Physics," as the course in known, in the 1980s. When she heard that Packard will retire this month, she was determined that her children could one day say that they heard a lecture by the much-loved professor.
"Dr. Packard was my favorite professor," Larson said. "He makes physics so entertaining. He is just such a special part of Baylor, and I wanted Annika and Niklas to experience that."
It might have appeared to an outsider that Baylor's renowned professor put on a show especially for the children, but just like it was just business as usual for the man who is determined to bring fun into the classroom.
During the class, he demonstrated various physics principles. Using a cylinder and pieces of a potato, he showed the physics behind the Heimlich maneuver; with an egg and some bubble wrap, he explained the resiliency and the fragility of the human skull; and he enlightened the class on the cause of the collapse of the World Trade Center by explaining the properties of metal when used in architectural design.
"Physics is loaded with all kinds of practical applications, but I think that sometimes my students remember the demonstrations instead of the principles," Packard laughed.
Annika and Niklas weren't the only guests Friday. Several science majors, who were required to enroll in more-advanced physics courses, sat in on Packard's lecture. Senior Jacob Rucker, an aviation sciences major, has attended Packard's course all semester.
"I'm in a [calculus] based physics book, but I asked Dr. Packard at the start of the semester if I could sit in. I wanted to attend every class. Packard physics is a Baylor tradition—you can't have gone to Baylor without taking it. It is a rite of passage," Rucker said.
"We never got to take him, but he is a staple here. We had to crash one day. We wanted to give him our support because he always gives students his support," said Tiffany Driscoll, a junior physics major from Spring, Texas.
Packard said his imminent retirement has not yet sunk in.
"Every year is sad for me when the kids I have known for four years graduate," he said. "This isn't any different than what I experience every year. I think I will be nostalgic when I have a brainstorm on an idea I could use in my class, and then it will hit me that I won't have a class to teach."
Packard and his wife, Joyce, plan to travel after his retirement. The couple has participated in alumni college trips to Ireland and Switzerland and will journey to Washington and Lee University in Virginia this summer and New England in the autumn for a tour of the fall foliage.
A veteran of World War II, Packard is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Texas, where he earned three degrees in physics while working on naval research. He has been a professor at Baylor since 1952 and served as chairman of the physics department from 1981-1993. He was designated a Master Teacher in 1990 and has a lecture hall at Baylor named in his honor. In 2001, the senior class selected him as the Collins Outstanding Professor.
Packard said he has a host of memories to take with him from his 50 years at Baylor.
"My students actually arranged my first date with Joyce, who was Baylor's assistant dean of women. My class also once hired a belly dancer to come in while I was lecturing, and during the Christmas season, Santa Claus would make a visit to my class. Kids are just fascinating, and I have loved every moment," he said.
Awarded to individuals for outstanding teaching and mentorship that characterizes the Baylor experience
From guiding children, high school and college students to teaching television audiences and Sunday School classes at Columbus Avenue Baptist Church, Bob and Joyce Hornaday Packard of Waco have worked as a team to touch the lives of tens of thousands of young people both locally and around the world. The couple built a 60-year marriage, spending more than three-quarters of that time living and working on Baylor’s campus. They believe mentoring is two people learning from each other.
“Bob and I learn from every person with whom we come in contact,” says Joyce, a native of Fordyce, Ark. “Mentoring, to me, is a two-way street. Working in tourism in Waco today, very seldom do I give a tour or open up a historic home without learning a great deal from the person visiting.”
They owe their first date in 1953 to a blind date arranged, quite fittingly, by some of their Baylor students. It was shortly before the infamous Waco tornado. Bob jokes that they always had a “whirlwind romance” from the beginning, when he quickly asked Joyce for “one thousand more dates.”
They were married in Alexander Hall with Baylor President W. R. White presiding. The Packards teamed up to make Christmas decorations for several dormitories; they note that Bob, who still makes holiday wreaths for charity as a hobby, constructed a decoration showing Santa Claus on a rocket going to the moon. Their teamwork continued with such efforts as serving together in 1970 on a Foreign Missions Board team to visit colleges and universities in Asia in preparation for the Greater Asian Evangelistic Crusades.
Joyce’s volunteer activities have included the Waco Welcome Corps, Waco Convention and Visitors Bureau, Baylor Round Table, Baylor President’s Scholarship Initiative, Leadership Waco and Historic Waco Foundation, among others. Her time at Baylor has included serving two years as assistant dean of women and dean of women living in Alexander Hall. She was also a counselor at Waco’s Richfield High School for 23 years.
“Bob and I have been blessed beyond measure, and we just hope that we have been able to give back a part of what’s been given to us. Working with young people is a real privilege,” she says. “‘Giving is the basis of living,’ my mother used to tell me, ‘if you can’t do something for somebody every day, then it’s a lost day.’”
Bob Packard, a Temple, Texas native, served in the military during World War II with stints in the Combat Engineers, Signal Corps and Intelligence. He earned three degrees at the University of Texas before joining the Baylor faculty in 1952.
The Baylor professor emeritus of physics and Master Teacher is known and recognized for his physics knowledge. He assisted the government of Indonesia in revamping its university physics program, and served as a visiting professor in numerous schools in Asia, as well as the University of Idaho, University of California, Columbia University and other institutions closer to home. He turned down many permanent employment opportunities in education and government to stay in Waco.
Beloved for his playful, engaging personality, Bob sometimes made use of a borrowed artificial eye “to keep an eye on students in class” and joked that he had a termite-filled wooden leg—one that would leave a tiny trail of sawdust as he walked.
Bob hosted a Waco television show called Atomic Age Physics, sponsored a televised academic challenge program, and also taught often at Paul Quinn College (formerly in Waco). He received a number of Baylor and national teaching awards, including Baylor’s Collins Outstanding Professor Award. In 2004, former students, alumni, family and friends of the Packards established an endowed scholarship in their honor.
Outside the classroom, he sponsored student organizations such as Taurus, Circle K and Kappa Omega Tau, which he helped design their award-winning Sing acts. He also served on Baylor’s Athletic Council for years and taught Sunday School classes at Columbus Avenue Baptist Church for decades.
Bob, now 90, formally retired from Baylor in 2002 following 50 years on the Baylor faculty. He returned to teach one class in 2009, and students scrambled to sign up for one last course with the Baylor legend.
Asked to note any differences in Baylor students from his first class to his last one, he says the students are, in spirit, the same—they still have a giving attitude.
“Baylor brings out in students the desire to help others,” he says. “Baylor students are outgoing, they are concerned, and they will volunteer. They are exactly what you would expect from a student.”
Bob says the epitome of that volunteer spirit was when some students asked him to sponsor a new campus organization, the nation’s first collegiate group for Habitat for Humanity.
In retirement, the Packards continue to be active in Waco serving as volunteers for various boards and committees. The couple has an exceptional fondness for the young visitors to Baylor’s Mayborn Museum, where they helped raise funds for its construction and still volunteer most Friday afternoons.
“Taking your children to the Mayborn Museum is absolutely the best education they can have. It’s five things in one, and each has a history on the campus,” says Bob, who loves that the museum is free to visitors on the first Sunday of each month, benefitting children who otherwise would not be able to enjoy it.
“The children are getting hands-on experience, and it never gets old because the activities are so varied,” he says.
Bob particularly enjoys catching up with former students who bring their children to the museum.
“I’m so happy because they teach their kids to come hug my neck,” he says.
The Packards often are asked for the secret to their successful marriage. Their response is, “Let God be your strength and comfort as you start each day. Expect something wonderful to happen and it will. Labor in God’s vineyard and you will be blessed with harvest beyond your wildest dreams.”
In their living room, Joyce keeps a Bible given to her by a former student in 1975. Its margins are filled with notes, prayers and sayings from their Baylor family.
“My favorite one is, ‘Keep alive in us, oh Lord, the beauties of the world, the joys of friendship, and the wonders of Your Grace. Each day that we live, shape our lives so that we will be a blessing to our fellow man,’’’ Joyce says. “Our lives and most of our activities have been spent primarily at Baylor and in Waco. Having the chance to be involved with both has been a real blessing, and we hope that we can continue to be of service.”
If you attended Baylor in the last 50 years or so, chances are that you took “Packard Physics” — the introductory physics course for non-science majors taught by the legendary Dr. Robert Packard.
Honored as one of Baylor’s select Master Teachers in 1990 and voted the Collins Outstanding Professor by the senior class in 2001, Packard retired in 2002 after teaching at Baylor for 50 years. But this spring, “The Pack is Back,” as flyers around the Baylor Sciences Building report. After six years away from the classroom, Packard will again teach one section of Physics 1405 next semester.
It’s said that a quarter of all Baylor alumni had Packard as a professor, which sounds about right. But then, when I was a student, it was also said that Packard was a top government official (perhaps CIA) who, should a national crisis arise, would be whisked away by helicopter to a top-secret location.
Regardless, for half a century, spending a semester in “Packard Physics” was kind of a rite of passage here — an experience students shared with a good percentage of the other students at Baylor. I’m certainly glad I was able to enjoy his physics demonstrations and good humor for a few months, and I’m glad the students who take his class this spring will get to benefit from his talents, as well as perhaps their parents and even grandparents did.
Sic ’em, Dr. Packard!
By Robert Darden, Baylor Magazine
Darden, BS 1976, is assistant professor of English at Baylor. He received his master's in journalism at North Texas in 1978. He is the author of two dozen books.
The Pack is Back
By Eric Doyle
For fifty years, "Packard Physics" was a Baylor institution. Whether he was lighting his arm on fire, demonstrating the physics of a curveball, or reconstructing Princess Diana's fatal wreck with eggs and wooden car models, Dr. Robert Packard was always up to something. (His famous exploding book trick is demonstrated here by Dr. Greg Benesh, chair of Baylor's Department of Physics.)
When Packard joined the Baylor physics department in 1952, he set out to create an introductory course for non-physics majors that would convey his love for the science in an engaging and relevant way. Though the course number changed over the years, it was always known as Packard Physics—even after his 2002 retirement.
So when word spread that Dr. Packard had come out of retirement to teach his storied course one last time, the staff of Between the Lines decided to send me to a lecture. Donning my sneakers and an old sweatshirt, I slouched into the auditorium and plopped down on the back row, ready for the "Big Show."
Packard hadn't lost a step in his seven-year retirement; he spent the minutes before class began joking with students as they entered, and he consulted with each in turn over the tests he was handing back. But when the lecture began, I realized what an estimated twenty-five percent of Baylor graduates between 1952 to 2002 already knew.
Frequently, Packard Physics has very little to do with physics. I had prepared for a circus act—flying eggs, exploding books, the Bearded Woman. What I got was a lecture on the history of drugs, from Neanderthal leaf-chewers to Colombian cartels. Packard opened the lecture from the auditorium's stairs—on the same level as his audience—with a statement I later came to learn was often heard in his classroom:
"This won't be on the test. It's just for your knowledge."
That's the essence of Packard Physics. I had thought that the zany demonstrations were what set Packard apart from most professors. In fact, the flash is just what keeps students awake in his class. What makes Packard Physics unique isn't the subject matter or the smell of lighter fluid—it's the emphasis on learning for learning's sake, the conviction that knowledge is itself an end.
As Benesh says, "Dr. Packard doesn't limit himself to what's in one particular textbook. His course isn't rigid; it's about physics and everyday life. I think Baylor really needs that kind of course." That's why, when the physics department needed someone to help out and take an extra course, Robert Packard was the first call Benesh made.
Packard and his wife, Joyce, have been busy since his 2002 retirement, involving themselves in their church and various Waco organizations. "I had no intention of coming out of retirement," Packard recalls. "Dr. Benesh called and asked under what conditions I would come back and take a class. I said, 'If you needed me.'"
Though he clearly enjoyed interacting with students again this spring, Packard doesn't think he'll be teaching again. "Well, I'll never say I won't. But it would require a need. You see, I'm eighty five. It's just too hard to be teaching at my age. But I do love it. I love the students."
Robert G. Packard PhotoAlbum